June 5, 2023 Admin

Exceeding Expectations: Programme Allowed Me To Have Lived Experience Of A Board

By Laura McCutcheon

“Just do it. You will not regret it.” 

These are the words of Jules Black, who took part in the Boardroom Apprentice programme earlier this year. 

The 41-year-old, originally from Belfast but now living in Glenariffe in the Glens of Antrim, works as a business consultant for business improvement company Linkubator. 

A first of its kind in the UK, the Boardroom Apprentice is a 12-month unique board learning, development and placement programme which enables those who would like to serve on a public or third sector board to gain invaluable experience through in-depth training and support.

Founded by Eileen Mullan in 2017 and supported by the Department of Finance, the programme is now in its sixth year and has helped many candidates across Northern Ireland to begin their Boardroom journey. 

After successfully applying to the programme, Jules was placed with Young Enterprise NI, a top education charity that works nationwide, with the not-for-profit organisation centring on an area which Jules has always been interested in.

“I have always worked in the Business and Private Sector and very much wanted to sit on a charity board,” Jules explained.

“My first choice was Young Enterprise NI, a charity I feel passionate about, and was lucky enough to be allocated on selection.

“Young Enterprise NI welcomed me with open arms, it was a wonderful and inclusive experience that I really enjoyed.”

Unlike other programmes with lengthy and often complicated application forms, Jules said she “found the application process pretty easy”, ultimately enhancing her experience within Boardroom Apprentice. 

The business consultant has a very positive outlook on life, and believed she would be able to complete it without feeling any pressure. 

She said: “I was super excited about the prospect of meeting new people and to take on the challenge of the learning days and Board experience. 

“The programme was brilliant” said Jules, adding: “It allowed me the opportunity to have a ‘lived experience‘ of a board whilst incorporating the theory from the learning days, closing the theory-practice gap which brought a richness to the learning experience. 

“For me, the beauty of this programme is that it allowed me the opportunity to grow and develop as a person not just within the Board setting but also within our project groups. The peer to peer learning and support was invaluable and a key take-away from the experience.”

The programme is also innovative in its approach as it hopes to break down barriers that are evident across many boardrooms.

“I believe it plays a significant role in challenging stereotypes by providing underrepresented individuals with the exposure, mentorship, and networking opportunities necessary to break through traditional barriers and succeed in boardroom positions” said Jules.

“The programme is designed to address the underrepresentation of diverse individuals on boards by providing them with opportunities to gain practical experience and develop skills. Therefore I believe the programme is extremely important and can play a significant role in helping to create the much needed diversity on boards.”

As well as developing her own existing set of skills, Boardroom Apprentice also enabled Jules to gain new skills that she did not have before. 

She said: “I had many key takeaways from the programme but just to highlight a few: understanding third sector accounts, specifically around restricted and unrestricted funds/income public sector boards, their purpose, how they work in real terms and best practice. 

“It has also given me the confidence to apply for board positions, which I wouldn’t have had before, knowing and understanding that my voice is important and valuable in the boardroom setting.”

But, perhaps one of the most surprising things about the programme for Jules was the people she met along the way. 

“The project group I belonged to gelled so well, I have made life long friends and that’s something that I had not anticipated” explained Jules.

Jules’s experience at Boardroom Apprentice also helped her to realise her main motivation for taking part in the programme, which is her five year old daughter.

“We were asked by the panel why we chose to apply for Boardroom Apprentice, and mine is pretty simple: the small human in my life.

“I have the absolute privilege of being a mother and I see my role like this. Number one and probably the most important is to keep her alive (those who have children in their life know that this is easier said than done when they throw themselves off trampolines, swings and all manner of other madness).

“I am the first and probably the most influential female role model she will have. Anyone who has responsibility for a small person has the opportunity to help shape their beliefs, values, and aspirations.

“The other most important element is setting an example. We can inspire our small people by setting an example through our own achievements and accomplishments. When they see us succeeding and overcoming challenges, they learn that anything is possible with hard work and determination.”

Reflecting on her time within the scheme, she thought the programme was well planned and an invaluable experience in terms of her career development.

She said: “I thought the programme was effective and I very much enjoyed the experience. There was clarity around structure, time required and expectations right from the get-go. 

“We were provided support, not only from our peer group, but also the Boardroom Apprentice team, and a buddy at our host board. There were opportunities available for networking and further career advancements. 

“The time and commitment given to the programme by all those involved in organising it is commendable and I appreciate all the hard work that goes into making it happen.” 

Thanks to her experience with Boardroom Apprentice, Jules has had the confidence to apply for roles that involve sitting on boards.

“I am currently applying for board positions and would hope to secure one in the next 12 months if not sooner. ”

The programme is set to return this year, with applications for this year’s apprentices opening on June 5.

Jules would recommend that anyone who is thinking of applying to Boardroom Apprentice to take the opportunity. Her only words of advice are:

“Just do it. You will not regret it.” 

Applications for the Boardroom Apprentice 2023 programme open on Monday June 5 and close at 3pm on Monday June 19.

To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply